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Published in on Monday, March 16, 2015

Machinists Union Seeks Election at South Carolina Boeing Plant

boeing-south-carolinaCHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The machinists union on Monday asked for an election so about 2,500 Boeing production workers in South Carolina can decide whether they want union representation.

Under National Labor Relations Board rules, 30 percent of the workers in a potential union bargaining unit must sign authorization cards for an election to be held, said Frank Larkin, spokesman for the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.

"We are confident we have achieved the minimum requirement and now the board will determine the exact number of people eligible to vote and then they will set and conduct the election," he said.

The exact number of those who signed authorization cards is not released, he said.

Boeing now employs about 7,500 people in South Carolina. Larkin said the union vote would pertain to production workers, about 2,500 of them, who assemble the company's 787 Dreamliner.

Boeing officials did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

"It's important often for workers at a successful company to have an opportunity to express themselves as it is if they are working at a company in trouble," Larkin said. "Boeing has this ugly practice of pitting state against state and worker against worker, and a collective bargaining agreement can help level that playing field for workers."

Four years ago, shortly before the company opened its $750 million Dreamliner plant, the NLRB filed a complaint against Boeing alleging that the nonunion plant in South Carolina was in retaliation against union workers in Washington state who held a strike in 2008.

The NLRB dropped the complaint later that year, after Boeing agreed that the 737 Max would be built in Washington.

The union has had members in the Charleston area before. It won the right to represent workers at Vought Aircraft Industries in 2007, a plant that Boeing later bought. Less than two years later, plant workers decided they did not want a union.

Gov. Nikki Haley, a strong opponent of unions, had recorded radio ads urging Boeing workers to reject a union.

Less than 4 percent of the South Carolina workforce is unionized, and the governor said in her State of the State address in January that has helped with economic development.
"We have a reputation internationally for being a state that doesn't want unions. ... Now, that reputation and, even more importantly, a South Carolina company, are under attack," she said, referring to attempts to unionize the Boeing plant.

Haley's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Mike Evans, a union organizer, said the decision whether to have a union is not to up Haley but to Boeing workers.

"We expect Governor Haley and her friends, who have no clue what it's like to be a front-line production employee for Boeing, to keep their personal biases to themselves and remain neutral in the weeks leading up to the union vote," he said in a statement issued by the union.